I had heard of Siobhan Dowd but sadly only via the news of her tragically early death from cancer last year. Beyond the usual detached sadness you feel when you hear of the death of a young writer I didn't think too much more until a copy of Bog Child published by David Fickling arrived.
I'm keeping children's literature high up my reading agenda again having lapsed in recent months and allowing the grown-up stuff to push it aside but it adds something special to the reading broth and I have quite a few in the queue.
Bog Child wasn't going to let me go after the first twenty sample pages and I just carried on, in fact couldn't and didn't want to stop.
Whilst out digging for peat eighteen-year old Fergus and his Uncle find a body in the peat bog. This is 1980's Ireland at the height of the troubles, the provos, the bombs and the prison hunger strikes and all this weaves in with the story of Mel, the bog child's life. To reveal any more would be to ruin the little revelations that make this story so good, so that's all you're getting of the this-happened-then-that-happened which I don't do a great deal of at the best of times.
So easy to give away something seemingly insignificant which then detracts wholesale from the enjoyment of a book.For goodness' sake tell me if I do.
With two narratives running side by side there's a great danger with a book like this that you end up with too much of the story you don't want too much of, and not enough of the one that has really grabbed your attention but I was completely satisfied with the balance that Siobhan Dowd achieved here. Mel's story gradually revealed but it doesn't smother that of Fergus and his family, just complements it perfectly.
Themes of struggle and sacrifice, love and conflict connect both and with it that little sense that in many ways plus ca change.
Exquisite writing with a very matter of fact Irish lilt to the vernacular which constantly reminded me where I was and a definitive fictional account of recent history that still may not have made much of an appearance in children's literature, I'm not sure.
But now for the sadness because here's a writer I would strive to read all there is and ever will be, but we will only have what has already been written by Siobhan Dowd and just one more book after this one. Solace of the Road will be published in 2009 and already available A Swift Pure Cry and The London Eye Mystery.
But Bog Child is published today and I hope there's a launch going on somewhere with an accordion playing because for sure, having read about Siobhan's life, she will be dancing and singing to it wherever she is.
One of those books you feel very privileged to have read and if it doesn't win prizes then I'm a leprechaun.
There is also a newly established Siobhan Dowd Trust which will endeavour to help disadvantaged children improve their skills and experience the joys of reading, offering financial support to a wide range of children including I'm pleased to say those with special needs.I have applied successfully in the past to the excellent Roald Dahl Foundation for grants for children who fit their very strict criteria and it is trust funds like this which can make a huge difference. Sometimes all a family needs is a few hundred pounds for something that will vastly improve their lives and there are fewer and fewer places to find that now without jumping through more hoops than many of them have the energy to do.
The Siobhan Dowd Trust a lasting legacy to a very gifted writer and final words to David Fickling,
' Siobhan was a person of immense humanity warmth and ability, just coming into the full measure of her talent. She made words sing for her. She had been waiting all her life to write as she had now been writing. We are lucky to have four brilliant books, and we cannot help thinking that is not enough.'